Numerous Toowoomba inner-city businesses were given a spruce up in February by 15 international, national and local graffiti artists

The artists invaded the inner city with spray cans in hand and turned many boring laneways and walls into massive works of art.

Grace Dewar and other artists from Kontraband Studio came up with the idea in mid 2013. “We sat with Toowoomba Regional Council and the Toowoomba Youth Service to work out a plan and were successful in getting the project funded. Artists are generally eager to paint so attracting them wasn’t a problem, as such. The funding allowed us to look after the artists and provide an enjoyable experience for them as well.”

Grace told me there was a lot of legwork and asking around to find the walls. “The walls we sourced for the project have a history of vandalism. Hopefully these murals deter vandalism and rejuvenate these spaces at the same time. Since the project, I think the community has a better understanding of public art and its various aesthetics.

“The community response has been overwhelming. I think what helped this project was the lead up. First Coat didn’t come out of nowhere. Through Kontraband Studios, we’ve lined up a few public walls over the past 12 months as well as being involved in projects like Animating Spaces, which saw four well-known out-of-town artists work alongside local artists. Ian McCallum painted a huge wall in our CBD.” The public response on the weekend of painting was massive with record numbers of people visiting the inner city to watch the artists at work. Artist Shida from Melbourne said at the break-up party on the final day that he was really happy to be able to travel and paint walls because he gets a real insight into the places he travels to. He said he feels like he gives these places a piece of himself, almost like a gift that lives on after he leaves.

Toowoomba critic Doug Spowart laments the anarchy of early graffiti. “Today it’s all done in the light of day with the luxury of ladders, scissor lifts, fume masks and adoring fans. Most importantly is the visibility of the architectural canvases being offered these artists.”

Festival coordinator Grace Dewar tells me, “The next one is already in the mix. Local businesses are invited to get in touch with Kontraband Studios and offer their external walls. These projects only live on with community support,” she says.

Visiting the inner city today never fails to deliver visual delights. Every time I am surprised by another painted wall I have not seen before. I remember the words of the world’s most famous graffiti artist Banksy. He said, “Some people want to make the world a better place. I just wanna make the world a better-looking place. If you don’t like it, you can paint over it!”

Words & Images by John Elliott